Archaeology and the Arab Spring

With the most recent bouts of protests happening in Egypt over Morsi’s power  play where he extended his political powers through a constitution, I started to wonder what if any implications the Arab Spring has had on archaeology in Egypt. I started to research the affects of the Arab Spring on archaeological digs, and I discovered an article written just 5 days ago about the affects of this event. According to the article “Archaeology Meets Politics: Spring Comes to Ancient Egypt,” the Arab Spring has contributed to some significant challenges for archaeology.

One of the biggest figures discussed in the article was Zahi Hawass, who is of the biggest faces of Egyptian archaeology and the former leader of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA). During the protests against Mubarak, some people implicated Hawass in funneling artifacts and money to the former president. Though Hawass claims this never happened, he has still resigned as the leader of the SCA. Now there is a power vacuum in the leadership as well as an apparent lack of funding. This will cause some significant obstacles for future projects. Additionally the Arab Spring has halted some current archaeological digs, like one in Amarna. Because of the protests, archaeologists were forced to flee, and though none of the tombs at Amarna were looted…they still lost one year of dig time.

Another current obstacle comes from the actual protests of SCA workers. Many of them are eitheer out protesting the current president, or fighting the SCA for better wages and benefits. The implications for the Arab Spring on archaeology are extremely important. With the protests and change of government, the current artifacts and archaeological sites must be protected. It is important to examine how the current events and politics will shape the future of archaeology, because in the end it is important to protect the past to better understand the future.

The Beer Archeologist

Yesterday, my neighbors came over to dinner, and started talking about a brewery out east, called the Dogfish Head Brewery stationed in Delaware, which has worked with archeologists to recreate beer that ancient civilizations used in the past. The Dogfish Head Brewery works with an archeologist named Patrick McGovern, who supplies the brewery with data about the crops used to make the ancient beer as well as chemical tests o determine the location of ingredients. After hearing this from my neighbor, I did research of my own into the topic, and I quickly found an article about this in the Smithsonian called “The Beer Archeologist.”

According to the article, Dr. McGovern is a specialist of ancient fermented beverages. He cracks open ancient kegs and identifies the chemical compounds housed within the containers. In attempts to recreate the beverages, they have looked at remains of pottery from various archeological sites, like the Tomb of Pharaoh Scorpion I, where remains of savory, thyme, and coriander were identified. Analysis of the ancient pottery shows that Ancients used a variety of ingredients, some very strange to brew beer. Some other ingredients identified include:olive oil, cheese, carrot, chamomile, dates and some hallucinogens like poppy and hemp.

When the Dogfish Brewery set out to replicate the beer, they tried to be as authentic as possible in obtaining ingredients. They found native strands of yeast, and applied a spice mix called za’atar, which contains similar spice like thyme and coriander. The Dogfish Brewery now makes a brew called Ta Henket (ancient Egyptian for “bread beer”), which you can find at their brewery.

I think that this topic was so interesting because archeologists are mirroring the present and the past. By examining and recreating ancient Egyptians’ beer, we are experiencing, to the best of our ability, their ancient culture. If you want to read more about Dr. McGovern, the link is below.

Research Proposal: Debunking the Mummy Movies

When the tomb of King Tutankhamen was discovered in 1922 by Howard Carver and George Herbert, suddenly the world became reignited with curiosity about Ancient Egypt. The discovery spurred archeological expeditions, popular films, and media. One such example of popular media comes from the Mummy movies starring Brenden Fraser and Rachel Weisz. Growing up, they were my favorite movies…and honestly they are they reason I decided to take this class. Within the Mummy series, real historical figures such as Seti I and Nefertiti are referenced. Because of the movie, I began researching the historical lives of Nefertiti, Seti I, and the time period that the Mummy took place. My research paper will examine the facts surrounding the historic figures who are named within popular film by examining archeological evidence.

The first figure that I will focus on is Nefertiti who was the wife of Akhenaten, or the “heretic” king. Nefertiti was Akhenaten’s queen, and is currently one of the most iconic figures within popular knowledge of ancient Egypt. During my paper, I will go into Nefertiti’s life, some of the controversy’s surrounding her, as well as her iconic status within popular culture. During Akhenaten’s reign, he began worshiping a new god known as “Aten”, which was a sun god. He built a temple dedicated to the god, and relocated the holy city to a place called Amarna. Ancient Egyptians would later label him a “heretic” and “monotheist” because of his betrayal of the ancient ways. Interestingly, there is a lot of evidence gathered that suggests the people living under Akhenaten’s rule were suffering from a famine, or disease. Massive quantities of fleas have been discovered in the city of Amarna, additionally archeologist have examined bones from the graves at Amarna and have found that many of the ancients died very young. This factors into the historical period of unrest that comes out of Nefertiti and Akhenaten’s rule. Within the Mummy Returns, the main character Evelyn O’Connell has visions where she is Nefertiti, though within the movie she is the daughter of Seti I.

Though Seti I was a real person, he was not the father of Nefertiti, like the Mummy suggests, but rather one of the pharaohs that took over after the upheaval caused by Akhenaten. Unlike Akhenaten, who worshiped the sun god Aten, Seti I went back to the traditions of old and worshiped more ancient deities like Amun. Within this section of my paper I will talk about the reign of Seti I, and specific archeological discoveries, like the King’s List of Abydos, which demonstrate Seti’s desire to legitimize himself as ruler. Within the King’s List of Abydos, Seti I removed the names of several kings including Akhenaten and his son, King Tutakhamen, because of the religious heresy the committed. Within this section of my paper, I will describe Seti I’s legacy within Ancient Egypt.

I am looking at this whole paper through the context of the Mummy movies, since they were the vehicle that made me interested in archeology. The movies are completely fictitious, though they use actual historical figures. Though it is improbable that there are people who actually believe that the events in the story actually happened, I think that it is important to understand the truth behind the film.


Dodsen, A. (2009). Amarna Sunset : Nefertiti, Tutankhamun, Ay, Horemheb, and the Egyptian Counter-Reformation. Cairo, Egypt: American University in Cairo Press.

Panagiotakopulu, E. (2001). Fleas from Pharaonic Amarna. Antiquity, 75(289), 499-500.


Unification, the Myth

When thinking about the unification of Egypt, Watrall was talking about how it most likely occurred over a period of time, and not in one swoop. But, discoveries like the Narmar palette seem to suggest that the unification was quick and took place under one leader, Narmar. Within the Narmar palette, it depicts a leader wearing the bulbed white crown of Upper Egypt, then later he is depicted wearing the white crown combined with the red crown of lower Egypt. Some historians may look at the Narmar palette as conclusive evidence that the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt was achieved under one ruler.

Though it is more likely that the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt took place over several years, and with proto-pharaohs ruling before the government was established. The Narmar palette, Scorpion mace heads, and the Narmar mace heads depict the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, though it is unclear who began the unification process. Within the Scorpion mace heads, a pharaoh is depicted wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt, then in the next mace head the same king is depicted wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt. Similarly the Narmar mace head depicts similar evidence.

Yet despite all of the evidence pointing to the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under Narmar and the Scorpion pharaoh, the mechanics of the unification remain unclear. Some scholars debate whether Narmar and the Scorpion pharaoh are the same person, or different people ruling at the same time. Other scholars argue that they are separate rulers. Another interesting debate is whether Narmar is a proto-pharaoh from Dynasty 0, or the first Dynasic pharaoh.

I imagine similar debates will occur when people look back to the early days of any civilization. Even the early history of the United States is held in contention, so it makes sense that such questions are such difficult to answer.

Have Times Changed?

One of the most striking thing I’ve been thinking about these last few class sessions were the nature of the grave goods found in the archeological sites. One of the most prominent items that have been found were cosmetic palettes. These palettes ranged in styles going from plainer rectangular designs which were found in middle class graves to elaborate designs with images of boats and fish on them. It’s interesting that ancient Egyptians were so concerned with makeup. It must have been a central aspect of Egyptian culture if so many homes and graves contained palettes.

Cosmetics have been around for and extremely long time, and the use of makeup has continued to our culture today. Now makeup is more elaborate than the most decorated Egyptian palette. It comes in multiple colors, with eye shadows, liners, mascara, creams, and foundation. The advances in cosmetics have been numerous. But, I wonder if the purpose of cosmetics remains the same. In Egypt, I was thinking that cosmetics denote a type of status. People who could afford makeup, or who wore makeup in a certain way may have had a different status within society.Similarly, in today’s society the way that you apply makeup denotes a certain status or role in society. For example someone who where’s more natural makeup may be seen as professional. While a red lip evokes images of boldness and authority.

Though the cosmetics themselves have evolved and changed, it is very likely that the methodology behind the cosmetics themselves is very similar to today’s time. I think that it is amazing how such simple items such as cosmetic palettes and stone tools can reveal so much about a society. When thousands of years have gone by and future archeologists find the remnants of our society what kinds of conclusions will they come by just from looking at our everyday items?

Increasing Social Stratification Upper Predynastic

One of the things that I found most interesting about this last lecture was the increasing social stratification that develops in predynastic Upper Egypt. When we started talking about the Badarian period, social stratification a starting to emerge within mortuary sites. Grave goods became telling of status. Upper classes had fancier designed ceramics, sometimes ivory figures, more elaborate cosmetic palettes, and crafted knifes located within their burials. Middle and lower classes also had similar items, like black topped ceramic and cosmetic palettes, though they were often much less showy in design.

By the time Naqada I takes place, social stratification is much more pronounced. Grave goods founds within rich and poor graves had more striking contrast, additionally there begins to a separation between grave sites for the very wealthy and the poorer classes. Grave goods like ceramics become more impressive, with smoother edges and more precision. Additionally, new goods like ivory and bone combs, slate palettes, flaked fish tail knives, and stone tools become begin to show up in graves. Additionally, the complexity of existing goods like the cosmetic palettes increases, as can be seen with the design of the elephant carved into one. Another interesting development in the stratification of Upper Predynastic mortuary practices is the development of tombs, which are grave complexes for the more wealthy members of society.

By the time Naqada II comes around, Predynastic Upper Egypt experienced increasing social complexity with large populations and an emerging state. Additionally, the difference between the rich and poor becomes more pronounced. In  Naqada II there are some graves which are clearly elite, holding specialty goods like figurines, pallets depicting boats and humans, mace heads, beads, and weapons. Level of wealth increases during this time, but along with this comes the stratification of classes.

It is interesting how as society develops and becomes more complex, it is inevitable that social stratification increases. In today’s world, the reason there are such ideas like wealth and poverty because there is a distinction between the classes.

Found Secrets and Subterranean Structures

One of the most interesting things about this last lecture about the Predynastic of Lower Egypt was the discussion about the semi subterranean structures found within Ma’adi. As discussed, the semi subterranean structures were basically warehouses. Each were dug into the ground and had stone steps with a long hallway. there was also a ledge running around the room and post holes,  which used to contain large trees…probably cedar based on the size. Within the semi subterranean structures there were several potholes which were specifically dug to nestle pots. This discovery is very significant for many reasons.

One reason it is so important is that the creation of an ancient warehouse demonstrated the existence of settled agriculture. The people of Ma’adi needed to store goods within the warehouse for future storage, so it shows how they must have planted many plants and kept them safe/rationed within the storage facility.

Additionally, the semi subterranean structures demonstrated the existence of a trade route. According to the lecture, Ma’adi was most likely a center of ancient trading routes. There have been several discoveries that indicate this, such as turquoise beads which came from Iran or Afghanistan. Additionally artifacts like beads were made from materials that came from all around the ancient world, like carnelian. Also the amount of copper found in Ma’adi indicates that trade within other areas is most likely. The existence of trade can be seen within the semi subterranean structures themselves because the post holes that came from cedar trees must have imported cedar. Tamarisk trees were the most durable trees made during that time, but they were much too small to actually support the structure of the ancient warehouse. The only other tree large enough to fit within the post holes is palm trees, but they were much too soft to provide support. That must mean that the cedar trees were imported from Lebanon in order to create the support for the structure.

It seems amazing to me that one site can give so many clues to the ancient practices of Egyptians who lived in the Predynastic Lower Egypt several thousand years ago.

Badarian Burials

One of the things that I found most interesting about the reading for this week was the section which talked about the Badarian burials from the Middle East. In chapter 4 of Intro To The Archaeology Of Ancient EgyptBard talks about the significance that Badarian burials had to archeologists’ idea of spirituality in ancient times.Despite the fact that the burial sites had “few grave goodsthey were still important because they may demonstrate how ancient peoples began to have a conception of “life and death” (Bard, 88). As a religious studies major, I am always wondering when religions beliefs began to surface. I think that it is amazing how different disciplines work together to create a better picture of what life was like in ancient times.

In addition to showing how ancient cultures developed a concept of life and death. The burials may also indicate “expressions of grief by the living, and possibly also concepts
of an afterlife” (Bard, 88). This point is further pronounced by the fact that “some burials also had jewelry, made of beads of seashell, stone, bone, and ivory” (Bard, 88). Grave goods show that ancient people cared enough about the people buried to leave objects of significance with them in the graves, especially since “seashell, stone, bone, and ivory” were somewhat difficult commodities to come by. It seems as though the Badarian burials, though not located within Egypt, are one central piece of ancient history.

Though there is not enough evidence to confirm the ancients belief of an afterlife, these burials probably demonstrate ancient peoples’ grief in losing their loved ones. These discoveries, to me, show the commonalities between ancient peoples and our culture today. It’s true that not everyone agrees about what happens after death….but care for another human being seems to be one pillar of the human condition.

Of Mummies and Memes

I remember watching the Mummy, the movie with Brenden Fraser and Rachel Weisz, was probably the first time in my life that I was exposed to Egypt. The movie was my favorite thing, and I watched it an unholy number of times. I sat transfixed by the magic and majesty; mummies, ancient curses, Gods, the books of life and death. Now, after reading the Hassan’s article “Egypt in the Memory of the World,” I have started to think critically about the positive and negative affects of egypotmemes in popular culture.

On one hand, popular culture representations of Ancient Egypt are extremely untrue and focus on fantastical pieces of “history.” Flipping through the history channel, I remember once coming to a program about ancient aliens and a man was arguing how the pyramids were actually built by aliens. He argued that ancient cultures did not have the technological capabilities of building the pyramids, so therefore it must have been extra terrestrial beings who the Egyptians would later translate into the Gods. From a historical standpoint these stories are ridiculous. Popular culture and representations are driven by the need for entertainment…often in place of the larger truth. The materials we learned in class about the importance of the Nile river and the flood patterns are rarely, if ever, a center of popular culture, despite it’s importance. Instead programs about mummies, curses, the plagues of Egypt, and controversial figures like Cleopatra are the center of attention. In the end, that is what sells. Of course, the consequence of this select information is that Egypt is dramatized and often misunderstood.

Despite all of this, egyptomemes have a positive impact in that they increase people’s interest in discovering more about Egyptian history. Without the popular culture representations of mummies and treasure, Egypt may not have as many people interested in uncovering the truth.

Connection Between Geography and Spirituality

As a Religious Studies student, one of the things that I found most interesting within the readings and lectures was the significance between the geography of Egypt and ancient Egyptian religion. I think that sometimes it is possible to overlook how important something as simple as geography can be in shaping worldviews. This idea can be seen in many ways. One example comes from the religious belief that the necropolis or cities of the dead were located to the west of the Nile river. In the lecture, it is cited that because of the brutal conditions of the Sahara, ancients recognized the dangers of the area, and translated it into spiritual practice. Though it is not always the case, most of the time the cities of the dead were located to the west, while the major cities of the living were located to the east of the Nile.

Another connection between geography and spirituality can be seen in the Nile river itself. Professor Watrall talked about how the flow of the Nile made it possible for Egyptians to travel, thus eliminating the need for highways or road systems. Additionally, the nature of the water flow made travel especially useful since the river flowed south to north, but the wind currents traveled north to south. Thus, Egyptians could travel either direction of the Nile, either by using a sail to go south or by coasting with the current to travel north. I thought it was especially interesting how the word which means “to go north” was a boat with a sail while the word “to go south”: was a boat with a sail. Boats were essential to the lives of ancient Egyptians, and were depicted everywhere. Spiritually, boats were to significant that the Sun God Ra, used a boat to bring the sun across the sky each morning.

This is just the beginning of the class, but there are already several connections between ancient Egyptian spiritual practices and the natural geography of Egypt. This has made me think to what extent other religious views are shaped by the natural world in which they were conceived.